When learning is an adventure, being in school will never be the same.

In a previous blog, Epic Learning Journey: Immerse Your Learners In An Adventure, I focused this article on 3 concepts of designing adventures:

  • One’s learning is like the Hero’s Journey
  • Ownership of one’s learning
  • Growth, Progress, and Mastery

From then my thoughts of designing learning experiences have shifted to designing adventures as I still keep those 3 core concepts listed above.  Something that I’ve noticed is when we converse in the language of school by talking about homework, tests, assignments, group work, etc. . . . the learning experience becomes mundane.  School becomes a chore.

Does school have to be that way?

In the past couple years, I’m trying to re-imagine my classroom by keeping the parts that make learning engaging because at the end of the day, that is what our students need and want.  Our students need and want to be part of an engaging learning adventure where they get so immerse in the adventure, they forget that they are actually learning when they actually are.  From the perspective of design thinking, we have to design a learning experience with the student interests, strengths, and needs in mind. If I were an adolescent again, I would love to be part of the following adventures.

Who wants part of the Fellowship of the Ring on a task to journey to Mordor and back again?

Who wants to be part of the Goonies to find treasure that will save their neighborhood from eviction and from being transformed into a golf course by evil rich people?

Who wants to travel through time with other companions from other timer periods to save the world from an outside destructive force?

Adventures are inconsistently seen and noticed in education even though the potential is there.   Most of our adventures happen outside of the classroom if our lives permit us to do that.  Most of our learner’s lives take place within the walls of an educational institution.   If we change the space, tone, language, the learning community . . . essentially the culture into one of an adventure, school can be one of those events in our children’s lives that will have a permanent positive imprint. School will never be the same afterwards.

A MEMORABLE MIDDLE SCHOOL ADVENTURE

In middle school, this was our adventure at Ben Franklin Middle School. From a person outside, this may of been any ordinary school and interdisciplinary team.  As a student experiencing this adventure, it was a memorable, emotional, and one of the happiest times of my life.  My perspective of school will never be the same afterwards.  My classroom will never have the same exact essence as this experience but I can pull a couple concepts out of this.

What made this moment permanently and emotionally imprinted in my own experience?

  • In this moment, our interdisciplinary team used the Hero’s Journey as framework to guide us in our learning stages.  We had real world problem and challenges to solve.  As with any hero’s journey, you need to learn to overcome challenges to attain the ultimate treasure which is learning. Challenges were designed to make student design solutions.
  • This adventure had many of different experiences from traveling the Oregon Trail,  to being part Channel 7’s episode of the discussion of Polly Klass,  to learning how to edit our school video at SF State, to making our type of Bill Nye the Science Guy video, to learning how to line dance, and more.
  • Everything that we do gives the learner’s a sense of agency.  We don’t solve problems for the sake of solving problems, we solve problems for the sake of changing our local community and ourselves.
  • I was with a company of other peers going through this journey together just like Mikey and the Goonies, Frodo and his Fellowship, and Chrono and his fellow Time Travelers.
  • I had mentors who cared and supported everyone’s learning.  They cared about us as individuals. Our interdisciplinary team was actually a team and we all felt that we were part of that team.  Belonging and community is key.  Through our journey, we knew each other well and to this day, 26 years later, we all still keep contact in one form or another.
  • At the end of our middle school adventure, we get to look back and reflect on what we learned, how we grew, and how we will apply what we learned to future endeavors.

All in all, a culture has been set in place through our relationship with our teachers, peers, and fellowship and our relationship with the journey.

DESIGNING AN ADVENTURE

Choose Your Adventure

I remember there was a time in the late 80’s when I get to rent video games from Videot, the Wherehouse, and/or Blockbusters.  These stores were like looking at books at Border and Barnes and Nobles.  I was really into looking at the game cover and reading the instruction manual of how to play the game.  It’s those initial interaction that make or break your decision on whether or not you want to take part of an adventure.


As a result, I branded my classes so that it feels like an adventure game.

When a student picks a learning adventure, they now have something tangible to look at and wonder.  If they want to know more about it, they can look at the narrative which will be explained in the upcoming sections of this blog.

Structure of Adventures

An adventure is synonymous to a course like Physics and Social Studies.  Each adventure is made of quest which are the events that happen within the adventure.  The quests are the stepping blocks to reach the objective of the adventure.  Missions are the learning series necessary to learn the skills to defeat the boss in the boss battle level and accomplish the objective of the quest.

Designing Adventures

Designing a course and design an adventure have very similar concepts.  In designing your adventure, you must have fundamental building blocks which include:

  • THE OBJECTIVE: The purpose of the quest, mission, and/or adventure.
  • THE RULES:  This states what the learner’s are able to do and not be able to do with their associated consequences.
  • PROCEDURES: This states the steps on how to achieve the quest, mission, and/or adventure’s objectives.
  • RESOURCES:  The strategies, and resources needed to help the learners reach the objective of the adventure.
  • OUTCOME: This states what happens when the objectives have been reached.

Based on the design of the adventure, each level whether it be the quest, mission, or adventure must have these design components.  If one or more of these components are missing, then we don’t have an adventure anymore. Instead, we have a free for all event with no end goal or purpose.

The Narrative

Everyone wants be the protagonist, the hero, and the main character of there own adventure.  To give the learning experience context, making everyone the main character in the adventure’s narrative is key.  Each adventure must have a narrative.   In the following link provided, Mission Possible: Save Gaia, is a narrative that outline the story of this adventure.  Using the hero’s journey framework, is a great starting point to outlining how your narrative is going to progress so that you know how your learners will start, to plan the challenges they will go through,  and to plan how the usage of the treasures and learning skills will help the learners on their next quest.  Below is video on a variety adventure narratives that we offer for our STEAM classes.

Boss Battles

The concept of a boss battle is very similar to that of an assessment, except a boss battle sounds like an engaging challenge.  In the game Chrono Trigger,  I needed to defeat Lavos, who was an extremely difficult boss to beat. With all skills that I’ve learned and grew stronger at and all the experience I’ve accumulated,  I was able defeat Lavos.  Missions and quests are designed so that you learn, practice, and master the necessary skills to defeat the boss battle.  From the perspective of instructional design, this is backwards planning.   Boss battles are a great way to apply what you’ve learned in different scenarios as different boss battle may include the usage of skill sets from previous boss battles and quests.

Taking a Step Back

In a previous blog,  Storytelling and Reflection, I emphasize metacogntion and reflection as necessary part of the learning process.  This step requires all learners to take a step back and look at what they have learned, how they’ve learned and grew, and evaluate on the things they need to work on.  At the end of every quest or adventure, the characters in Chrono Trigger, Goonies. and Lord of Rings also took a step back and reminisce on their adventure.  We can see that before Chrono’s Time Travelers go back to their own time world, as the Goonies stare at the pirate ship in the ending scene, and before Sam bids farewell to Frodo,  they look back at their adventure and realize through this process, they are not the same person anymore.  This is where the actual transformation happens which is why reflection is a key process to any learning experience.  The end goals and ultimate treasure of any adventure is the realization of self-transformation and empowerment to use what they’ve learned in any scenario.

IMPLICATION TO MY TEACHING PRACTICE

To be transparent, there is more to this concept of adventure that I’m trying to unpack.  This exploration of adventure itself is an adventure.  The more I unpack it, the more the STEAM adventure design is going to transform.  Designing an adventure is no easy task and most of the times, it will not work the first time, second time, or third time.  It’s an exciting work in progress and this is my 3rd year in it’s iteration.  As you see, my instruction design is dynamic based upon research from books, articles, and other finding as well data I collect from student voice, behavior, and the results of their assessments.    Designing adventures is not a panacea that will cure the disengagement gap that we are seeing in schools but potentially is piece of the solution that we need to explore more.

Happy Adventuring and Happy Teaching!

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This was a fantastic and inspiring read. This is how the educational system needs to be! I was a high school physics teacher, but since my move I was the STEM person at a very small K8 school and a UDL consultant for ECU. I’ve love to meet up and chat sometime.

Look me up. 🙂

https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkocher/

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